Corruption, Not American Sanctions, Are the Cause of Iran’s Current Woes

October 15, 2020 | Alireza Nader
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“Show Mercy, Mr. Trump” reads the headline of a recent New York Times editorial urging the U.S. government to ease sanction on the Islamic Republic, which is suffering severely from the coronavirus pandemic. While many Iranians are indeed having trouble obtaining medicines, the problem, Alireza Nader explains, is corruption rather than American policies:

Health Minister Saeed Namaki has continually reported that Iran is doing just fine when it comes to supplies of medicine. At the height of the pandemic, Namaki said that “although it is hard to fight the coronavirus under sanctions, since the beginning [of the outbreak] we have not faced a shortage of special drugs needed to treat this disease.”

In some respects, this should not be surprising, since U.S. law ensures that Washington’s sanctions on Iran do not prohibit trade in food or medicine. European trade data show that Iran’s pharmaceutical imports remained robust in 2019 despite the return of sanctions. And regime insiders such as the chairman of the Iran-Switzerland Chamber of Commerce have admitted that mechanisms such as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement allow the import of humanitarian goods without hindrance from U.S. sanctions.

So why are there still shortages? Namaki warned lawmakers that corrupt networks are selling drugs on the black market, “hoarding medicines in warehouses, and distributing counterfeit drugs.” The health minister also blasted “a highly complicated network” within the government responsible for systemic corruption and theft, including the hoarding of “millions of antiviral masks.”

Such problems affect every sector of Iran’s economy. . . . Theft is what feuding [Iranian] politicians have in common, regardless of the faction with which they are aligned. . . . U.S. and European leaders should bear this corruption in mind as regime officials such as Foreign Minister Javad Zarif seek to play on Western guilt to secure sanctions relief.

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